The high school football season unofficially arrives Friday with the Kickoff Classics. Baker travels to Jay for the Preseason War of Highway 4; Crestview will be at Pace to face the Patriots.
This will be my 13th consecutive season covering Northwest Florida high school football. I also spent a year covering it as a freelancer in the fall of 1985. Escambia High School had a good junior running back on that team some local athletes can brag about playing.
Everyone who follows football knows about Emmitt Smith, the all-time rushing leader in National Football League history.
After that 1985 season it was another 16 years before I covered a high school football game in Northwest Florida. By that time, I was in the business full time working for the Northwest Florida Daily News.
I covered Jeff Webb's last season coaching the Baker Gators and Matt Brunson's first year coaching the Crestview Bulldogs.
Jacob Cosson was the Crestview quarterback and Vernon Jones was the do-it-all star under center for the Gators. Jones might just be the best all-around athlete I've seen in my 12 seasons in Okaloosa County.
As good as Jones was in each sport, the toughest player I've seen is former Bulldog running back Adam Phillips.
The best way to describe Phillips is old school. Phillips, who also played safety on defense, sported a scar across the bridge of his nose from where his helmet constantly came down when he made a tackle or took on a tackler.
Coaches often talk about players with the will to win, those who can carry a team; Phillips was — when he wanted to be — that kind of player.
Four years ago, Crestview opened the season in the Kickoff Classic against a team from Santa Rosa County that is near and dear to my heart: my alma mater, Gulf Breeze. That night, freshman safety Tyler Henderson gave fans a glimpse of what he would do the next four years.
Henderson intercepted the first Dolphin pass that came his way and returned it for a touchdown. Only injuries could keep Henderson off the field during his playing days. Henderson is now at Florida Atlantic University, where he's fighting for playing time as a true freshman.
I've learned that each season presents a set of memories all its own. No two teams, no matter how similar, are ever exactly alike. Each generation has memories unique to that time and place.
A few years ago I did a story on the legacy Donald Griffith and his family made to Baker football. Donald was the first of three generations to play for the Gators. He was a lineman on one of Baker's teams in the 1950s.
Donald's son, Warren, played for the Gators in the mid-1970s and Warren's sons, Drew and Ben, followed the family tradition. I covered the two younger Griffiths.
The Griffiths’ story reminded me that high school football was, and continues to be, a family affair.
Friday night, the lights come on for dress rehearsals. A week from Friday, teams take to the field in games that count.
It's time to strap it on as memories for the making await.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.